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The Genie at Low Tide

When Josh Cooper met Marybelle Evans he’d been out of the majors for thirty-five years. He’d had a brief, but distinguished, pitching career a thousand miles north in Boston, where he’d won Rookie of the Year in 1972. But that gig had come to an abrupt end in 1973 when he’d tried to fire a fastball past Boomer Johnson, the ball meeting flush with the thick end of Boomer’s bat and shooting back at Josh in a blaze of light and a burst of stars. Josh, or Coop, as he was known around the league, made a brief attempt at a comeback the following year, but he’d lost the magic, his fastball gone limp, his slow stuff flat; and by midseason he was on his way home to Beaufort, South Carolina.

Fortunately, Josh had banked most of his pitching pay, and this little nest egg allowed him to wallow in idleness. He lazed around in the hammock the accommodating proprietors of the Beaufort Inn had slung across the front porch for his convenience, a beer balanced on his belly, appraising the skirted legs that marched by on the sidewalk and climbed up and down the entrance steps during the lunch hour. Evenings would generally find him parked on one of the twenty or so barstools around town, cooling his palms on a beer mug and chatting with the bartender, while waiting to buy drinks for the first pretty face to wander into the cone of his vision.

In this manner he drifted through three and a half dissolute decades, featuring a string of women friends and thudding hangovers, until he smashed headlong into the Law of Diminishing Returns (both financially and socially) and retired to a small house on the brackish Rooster Tail River on Cutter Island. There was a live oak to the side of the house, whose huge ghostly branches dripped great tresses of Spanish moss and canopied a deck in back where Josh docked a twenty-two foot outboard, and from where he puttered off most every morning down the twisting Rooster Tail, between fields of marsh grass, to the sea. He usually fished alone, and he knew some people thought that strange, but he had never been one to feel a great need for company. Most evenings he didn’t motor straight home, but stopped off at Carl’s Bait Shop, which doubled as the local marina (and tripled as the town tavern), where he’d drop off the majority of his catch, to be distributed by Carl to whomever happened to stop by for a bucket of bait or a six-pack of beer. Here, huddled over the bar, he and Carl would idle away the rest of the afternoon drinking beer and chatting about baseball, and this is where destiny found him, on his sixtieth birthday, when Marybelle Evans dropped smack into the intersection of his personal coordinates in space and time.

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